Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana) is an ancient Roman site comprising the ruins and archaeological remains of a large villa complex built circa CE 120 by Roman Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli outside Rome. The villa was constructed at Tibur (modern-day Tivoli) as a retreat from Rome for Emperor Hadrian during the second and third decades of the 2nd century CE.
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Hadrian is believed to have disliked the palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome, leading to the construction of the retreat. It was traditional that the Roman emperor had constructed a villa as a place to relax from everyday life. Previous emperors and Romans with wealth, such as Trajan, had also constructed villas. Many villas were also self-sustaining with small farms and did not need to import food.
During the later years of his reign, Hadrian actually governed the empire from the villa. He started using the villa as his official residence around 128 CE. Therefore, a large court lived there permanently and large numbers of visitors and bureaucrats would have to have been entertained and temporarily housed on site. The postal service kept it in contact with Rome 29 kilometres (18 miles) away, where the various government departments were located.
After Hadrian, the villa was occasionally used by his various successors (busts of Antoninus Pius (138–161), Marcus Aurelius (161–180), Lucius Verus (161–169), Septimius Severus and Caracalla have been found on the premises). Zenobia, the deposed queen of Palmyra, possibly lived here in the 270s.
During the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the villa gradually fell into disuse and was partially ruined as valuable statues and marble were taken away. The facility was used as a warehouse by both sides during the destructive Gothic War (535–554) between the Ostrogoths and Byzantines. Remains of lime kilns have been found, where marble from the complex was burned to extract lime for building material. Building material was also reused by the Christians to build basilicas and other buildings.
The so-called Edifice of the Three Exedras (Edificio con Tre Esedre) building was a magnificent structure that probably served as a cenatio, or dining hall, with three semi-circular exedrae opening on three sides and internal colonnades. The entrance of the Three Exedras building was dominated by a large, rectangular fountain around which were found twelve statue bases.
The monumental access can be identified in the Casino of Semicircular Arcades, which was decorated by a rectangular fountain, a quotation of the atrium and impluvium of the ancient roman domus. This building had a central squared porch on which opened three semicircular courts decorated by fountains, and surrounded by semicircular porticoes. The walls of its main hall still bear the traces of great marble reliefs. From the Casino of Semicircular Arcades it is possible to see-through in a wide perspective up to the Winter Palace (Edificio con Peschiera). Here as elsewhere there was no direct access from one building to the other, but a concealed and meandering way, passing throug side rooms, thus creating a security check-point.
The Italian name evokes a connection with the building erected in the Agora of Athens in the fifth century BCE, called the Stoa Poikile, famous both for the paintings it housed (hence its name, Painted Porch) as well as for its association with philosophy (Stoicism). The Pecile was a huge quadriporticus (a courtyard enclosed by porticoes on all four sides), measuring 232 x 97 meters and many times larger than the celebrated Athenian building that supposedly inspired it.
The Pecile featured on its northern side a double portico, of which the 9 meter tall central spine wall is preserved, as are the bases for the columns at regular intervals (3.6 meters) to either side. The purpose of this upper level was to provide an all-weather space for the ambulatio, or daily walk.
The "Maritime Theatre" (Teatro Marittimo) was one of the most impressive structures in the villa complex. This is a round pool with an island in the middle, surrounded by columns. The island, reached by means of a swing bridge, was probably Hadrian's private studio, where he withdrew from the cares of the Empire to indulge in his two favourite pastimes, painting and architecture.
Built on a circular island surrounded by a moat, Hadrian chose to avoid straight lines – instead, he combined convex and concave walls using concrete and stone. This theatre complex is a villa in its own right and was built between 118-125 CE. It is commonly referred to as the "villa within a villa". A circular wall with an inner colonnade of Ionic columns separates this complex from the surrounding estate and created a portico or ambulatory around the island. Two wooden bridges spanned the 4.8 metre (15.7 feet) moat to provide access to the island. These bridges appear to have been removable to restrict access when the emperor wanted privacy.
The island domus had a series of cubicula for bedrooms, a triclinium (dining room), tablinum (reception/art room), a bathing complex, and an elaborate central atrium with a garden and fountain. The complex was originally interpreted as a theatre and was named for a fresco depicting a maritime scene on the wall of the entrance vestibule. The Maritime Theatre is exceptionally interesting for its unusual architecture. The circular arrangement and moat are visible, and many of the Ionic columns remain standing. The island villa is only partially preserved. However, visitors can stroll around the portico to see inside the rooms of this small, private villa.
Despite their name, the Small Baths (Piccole Terme) represent one of the most lavish buildings of the residence, innovative and experimental from an architectural point of view, they were in fact decorated with a great variety of precious marbles and mosaics. Due to their location and their characteristics, they were probably used by the Emperor Hadrian himself.
The Small Baths had precious opus sectile pavements, were meant for the Emperor's use and belonged to the noble quarters. The Small Baths, were directly connected to the Casino with Semicircular Arcades and also with the upper level of the Villa by a staircase, reaching the Winter palace and from there also the Praetorium Pavilion (Padiglione del Pretorio).
The structure known as the "Garden Stadium" (Stadio Giardino) or the Nymphaeus is the modern name for a major complex at Hadrian’s Villa that was neither a stadium nor a garden. Instead, it consisted of structures used in warm weather to host imperial audiences, receptions, dinner parties, and ambulationes.
Before this area was excavated by A. Hoffmann in the 1970s (Das Gartenstadion [Mainz 1980]) it was thought to have been an open garden imitating the shape of a stadium, as is attested elsewhere. This explains its conventional name. Archaeological investigation showed that much of the central area was filled by two pavilions (oeci, 3,6) separated by a central plaza. In the area of the plaza were found fragments of a Niobid statue group of the same type as seen today in the Gallery of Niobe in the Uffizi. The statues were probably erected in the south nymphaeum. The southern pavilion, which had six majestic Ionic columns along the long walls, was bigger: indeed, it is one of the largest covered spaces in the villa. The northern pavilion had two rooms, one of which had an impluvium. Each pavilion provided views of adjacent fountains: on the south toward a semi-circular basin sitting below the south nymphaeum; on the north toward a long euripus. The northern garden was surrounded by a colonnade off of which, to the north, were large rooms and a one-person latrine. The complex dates to Phase I (118-125 CE).
The Hundred Chambers
The The Hundred Chambers (Cento Camerelle) is the name given to a series of rooms probably used for storing supplies and housing slaves. Located along the western side of the Pecile terrace, it consisted of four stories of rooms accessible from concrete stairs that led to wooden balconies. Estimates of the number of rooms, which were paved in opus signinum, vary between 125 and 200. The lowest level included a latrine paved in opus spicatum. It led to a service corridor leading all the way to the Vestibule and the adjacent baths.
The Great Baths had simple black and white mosaic, as the Hospitalia, and were used by servants and slaves (it seems that they were never finished to be built). A system of internal paths and accesses completely isolated the Great Baths from the surrounding buildings: people coming from the Small Baths or from the Winter Palace could go to the Praetorium Pavilion using a Cryptoporticus and by-passing the Great Baths.
The Antinoeion was built on a gentle tufaceous slope that faces the long substructure called the "Hundred Rooms" and was cut to a depth of about three meters to create a surface for a horizontal foundation. The ground plan is divided into two parts: a rectangular enclosure, or temenos containing two temples and oriented along the road toward the Grand Vestibule, and a broad, colonnaded exedra. The temples and the colonnade of the exedra were made entirely of marble, and remaining buildings were brick, faced with marble or plaster. Although, the complex is almost completely destroyed, it is possible to reconstruct the plan with reasonable precision.
The serapeum is an artificial grotto constructed at one end of the canopus pool. Hadrian did not use this serapeum as a temple. Instead, it was a summer triclinium and entertaining area overlooking the pool. This structure was likely designed by Hadrian himself and would have made an impressive entertaining area to highlight the extent of Roman domination. The unusual half-domed serapeum grotto is made from concrete with niched walls. It includes triclinium benches where guests would recline while banqueting around a central fountain.
The Canopus (the large pool) is surrounded by a Roman-style colonnade with Corinthian columns, classical Greek statues, including a series of caryatids (as seen in the Erechtheion at Athens), and other Nilotic-themed statuary.
The large pool is over 120 metres (393 feet) long, with much of its original statuary remaining. Statues include the large-scale Greek caryatids, Nile crocodile, Neptune, and the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (a clear reference to the Roman Tiber River). Some of the Roman-style straight and arcuated lintels between the columns also remain.
The isolated tower rises at the extreme north-west of the terrace facing the valley of Risicoli. The walls were constructed by alternating a row of brickks with small rectangular tufa blocks. Externally it looks like a parallel piped with the entrance placed in the west, framed by two large semi-circular niches. The inside is a hall with an octaginal plan and with big rectangular niches similar to alcoved and opened on the north, east and south sides: the remaining sides are occupied by semi-circular niches.
The "Winter Palace" also known as the "building with the fish pond" (Edifico con peschiera) is a large complex on three levels. Its opus sectile floors and walls, the use of suspensurae to heat the spacious rooms on the top floor, the presence of one-person latrines, easy communication with the Heliocaminus Baths and the Stadium Garden, as well as its location near the Imperial palace all suggest that the building was used as the emperor's residence during cold weather (hence the name "Winter Palace" sometimes given to it). Central hall could hold a large number of people for receptions or meals. The structure dates to Phase II (125-133 CE).
Quadriportico of the Fish Pond
The quadrangle around a large pool (length: 28 meters) decorated with statues in the 24 niches attests that the building was used in the warm months both for bathing and, below in the cool cryptoporticus, for walks. The pool was surrounded by a colonnade composed of forty fluted white marble columns in the composite order.
The "Gold Plaza" or the "Gold Square" (Piazza d’Oro) is situated not far from the central hub of structures at the Villa Adriana. It is one of the more decadent, ostentatiously wealthy parts of the imperial complex. It consists of four main elements: an impressive vaulted structure, a central quadriporticus (a space surrounded by a continuous four-sided colonnade) featuring a canal, a dining-room (a cenatio), and a nymphaeum to the south.
The summer triclinium of the of Piazza d'Oro, Villa Adriana, Tivoli, Italy Hadrian’s villa, built by the emperor (117-138 CE) as summer imperial retreat, is a vast open air museum of some the finest architecture of the Roman world and the Roman Empires largest and richest villa ever built It is a UNSECO World Heritage Site.
Hadrian’s Imperial Palace was built over an existing Republican-era villa. The Imperial Palace was among the first buildings Hadrian had constructed when he began enlarging and beautifying his estate. Some areas of the original Republican-era villa are still visible, such as the central courtyard, which was surrounded by porticoes, and the floor decoration in the western section of the palace.
The palace was entered via stairs from the "library courtyard". It included offices for staff built around open courtyards and a small library with niches designed to store papyrus scrolls and various triclinia. It also had an elaborate semi-circular nymphaeum in which water cascaded down a series of tiers into a rectangular basin. Excavators found beautiful pictorial opus vermiculatum mosaic flooring in the so-called Triclinium of the Centaurs. These mosaics are now housed in the Vatican Museum and the Museum of Berlin.
The majority of the Imperial Palace is in ruins, with only partial walls and foundations visible in most areas. Exploring the many rooms and courtyards gives visitors an appreciation of the scale of Hadrian’s administrative centre. The rear wall of the summer triclinium with alcoves remains visible. The arrangement of the semi-circular apses around the nymphaeum shows the area where water once cascaded. Sections of the beautiful white opus sectile mosaic flooring on this side of the palace are also well preserved.
Peristyle with Doric Pillars
All that remains of the Hall with Doric Pillars (Sala Dei Pilastri Dorici), directly southwest of the Piazza d'Oro, are six of its columns. The original structure included a rectangular porch with Doric columns surrounding an open area. On the other end was a similar porch enclosing a garden, where the remains of a base for a statue have been found. Wedged in between these porches was the Central Hall, as well as various unexcavated rooms.
As with most buildings in the Villa, the Hall with Doric Pillars was constructed out of opus mixtum, a combination of cement and small tufa blocks. In addition, its polycrome marble mosaic pavement help further identify it as a noble building. The pattern of the mosaics also say something about Hadrian's choice to revive older republican styles throughout his Villa. Decorating the pavement of the outer porch (the one surrounding the garden) is a classic white background mixed in with colorful marble crustae. This is a typical style from earlier times, and similiar patterns can also be found in the nearby villa of the Imperial Palace.
This impressive space, located between the Imperial Palace and the Guard Barracks, had an uncertain function. Three parts may be distinguished: on the west, a curved, open-air courtyard with plantings in the center and three statue niches on an apsidal wall (one of which displayed the statue of a faun); next, a series of five rooms; and, on the east, a large space recalling a basilica with side aisles delimited by pillars connected by an architrave of the Doric order (hence the name of the structure). It is probable that the basilical space was roofed. The side aisles were covered by barrel vaults; the side walls and floors were in opus sectile. In view of its design, décor, and proximity to the Imperial Palace and Piazza d'Oro, the hall may well have been used for imperial meetings and audiences. The structure dates to Phase I (118-125 CE).
The building called the Guard Barracks (Caserma dei Vigili) is a very plain building that evidently had a utilitarian function. It consisted of barrel-vaulted rooms on two levels placed around a rectangular courtyard paved in opus spicatum. A wooden balcony connected the rooms of the second story. Off the courtyard on the southwest side was a large 15-person latrine. The building may have provided housing for the service staff, store rooms for equipment and supplies, or both. The building dates to Phase I (118-125 CE).
The Imperial Triclinium (or imperial dining hall) was connected to the Hospitalia by a set of stairs (Adembri & Benedetta, 2005). A secondary building type (see Hospitalia section of this site for more information on secondary buildings), the Imperial Triclinium was likely used by Hadrian’s Praetorian Guards. The central dining room of this structure also possessed monochromatic mosaic floors in a rhombic pattern. In addition to the dining room, the Imperial Triclinium also possessed a portico and terrace; this would allow it to be more functional during the warm summer months.
The Hospitalia was a two-story building with 10 guest rooms on the first floor off a long and wide central hallway, at the southern end of which was a hall. Nothing survives of the second floor, which presumably mirrored the layout of the first. It was accessed via a staircase. The surviving rooms have three alcoves for three beds; the floors are paved in black and white mosaic with geometric and floral designs. The rooms had frescoes with mythological scenes (S. Aurigemma, Villa Adriana [Rome 1996] 185). There is one large latrine accommodating 15 people in the northwest corner. The structure dates to the first phase (118-125 CE).
Courtyard of the Libraries and the Greek and Latin Libraries
The Library Courtyard (Cortile delle Biblioteche) was a large peristyle next to which were located the Imperial Triclinium, Hospitalia, Imperial Palace, Heliocaminus Baths, Maritime Theater, and the Greek and Latin Libraries. The colonnades consisted of 19 columns on the long sides (66 meters) and 14 on the short sides (51 meters). In the center of the northern colonnade was a nymphaeum that survived from the republican villa, as does the courtyard itself.
The Greek and Latin libraries (Biblioteca Greca and Biblioteca Latina) are situated on an artificial height (the upper Terrace), destined in ancient times to lodge a garden, and contained by a massive boundary wall with niches and a beautiful central stairway to connect the two levels. They are two buildings faced the courtyard of the Libraries and connected by a porch, they are conventionally indicated like Greek and Latin Library. The Greek one shows three plans, the last one of which was equipped with heating plant; it was connected with the maritime Theatre by an external stairway.
Like the nearby Greek Library, this building can neither be dated nor its function specified. Like the Greek Library, it is oriented towards the north, and the ground floor has three large rooms with a formal character (extensive use of opus sectile). In contrast to the Greek Library, which has three stories, the Latin Library has only two. The Latin Library had two similar halls decorated by alcoves, with a dominance of curved shapes. The internal apse of the second hall was visible from the entrance; a series of rooms linked the different alignments of the Library and of the Library Courtyard.
The Vestibule served as the entrance to the villa for important visitors arriving by horse or wheeled conveyance. The structure consisted of a central staircase bringing the visitor from the road below to an entry peristyle culminating in an apse on the southern side. Off this is a small courtyard with a temple to the west; to the east is a great hall on axis with the Canopus and Serapeum, beyond which is a curved peristyle connecting the Vestibule to the Large and Small Baths. On the east side, the Vestibule has a lower level with subterranean service corridors providing access to the Cento Camerelle and the praefurnia (furnaces) of the Large and Small Baths.
The Praetorian Pavilion or the praetorian barracks was attached to the hillside behind the large baths.
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